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Celtics pregame: Avery Bradley returns to the lineup against Hornets, no Tyler Zeller (sickness) 01.16.17 at 7:51 pm ET
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Avery Bradley

Avery Bradley

After missing four straight games with a right Achilles injury, Avery Bradley will return to the lineup on Monday night against the Hornets at TD Garden. 

Although the Celtics have gone 3-1 in Bradley’s absence, having their starting shooting guard certainly strengthens their lineup. Boston will face a hungry Hornets (20-20) team, one that has lost four straight games and is in danger of slipping below .500. 

However, don’t let their record fool you, said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, who believes a full-strength Hornets team will be a challenging one. 

“They just haven’t been healthy a lot but when their starting five has been healthy, which they are, they’ve been excellent,” Brad Stevens said. “This is a good team. This is a team that’s going to go on streaks of winning games and you just hope it doesn’t start tonight.

“Our guys have a lot of respect for these guys because you clearly have to play well to beat them, there is no grey area in that regard. If you don’t play well, they’ll beat you because they don’t beat themselves.” 

So far, the C’s are 2-0 in their season series against the Hornets but in their last contest against Charlotte the Hornets were without their leading scorer — Kemba Walker. The Celtics will look to stretch their season series to 3-0 while the Hornets will fight not fall below .500 for the first time this season. 

Bradley, who said he felt “a little sore” Monday morning, says there will be no minute restriction in Monday’s game. The C’s will also have Kelly Olynyk back in action, while Tyler Zeller (illness) will remain on the injury list. Zeller, who hospitalized last week, is still experiencing symptoms of nausea and dizziness. 

“Basically I had a sinus infection, middle ear infection and inner ear issue that was making me dizzy, kind of all at the same time,” Zeller explained. “Just got hit with a lot of sickness, flu, whatever you want to call it, cold, stuff. Kind of at the same time, it all compounded. Last week got it all checked out. Got it cleared. It was what they thought it was. I just kind of had to wait for it to clear out. So (coming back) now, it’s kind of getting back into the flow of things. And hopefully I’ll be back sooner than later.”

 

Read More: Avery Bradley, Tyler Zeller,
Jordan Mickey gets his shot as Celtics MASH unit in full operation with Avery Bradley, Amir Johnson, Jaylen Brown all out 01.11.17 at 7:05 pm ET
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Dec 7, 2016; Orlando, FL, USA;  Boston Celtics forward Jordan Mickey (55) against the Orlando Magic during the second half at Amway Center. Boston Celtics defeated the Orlando Magic 117-87. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Celtics forward Jordan Mickey (55) makes his first NBA start Wednesday against Washington. (Kim Klement/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics are about to find out just how good their bench is.

Brad Stevens opened his Wednesday pre-game media briefing with a painful grin, acknowledging the injury bug that has hit his team this week.

“It’s a long one. James Young is out. Avery Bradley is out. Tyler Zeller is out,” Stevens began. “Amir Johnson sprained his ankle in the first half [Tuesday]. He’s out. And then Jaylen Brown twist his ankle, sprained his ankle, Monday in practice and then played, felt pretty good, but aggravated it and felt sore today and he’s out.

“So who do we have in? I’m 99 percent sure which I’m going to go. I think we’re going to go with Jordan Mickey, with Al [Horford].”

Mickey, the second-round pick in 2015 out of LSU, is making his first NBA start. In nine games this season, he’s averaging 2.4 points and 1.9 rebounds in just over seven minutes a game off the bench. In 25 career games, he’s averaging 1.7 points. So, why Mickey for Johnson?

“Keeping the second unit where it is,” Stevens explained. “I like where Jordan is with regard to how he impact with that first unit, rolling to rim and rebounding and defending and those types of things.

“I think the biggest thing is being around him for a year and a half. It’s not just practice, it’s watching him play and do individual workouts. It’s the way he goes through walkthrough, it’s his focus and attention to detail and hey, we’re going to need everybody that’s available to help us tonight. So, I think anytime you get a chance, especially when you talk about how we play with the first group, he’s a good fit for that. Amir’s largely rolling [to the basket] for us. Amir is defending in pick-and-roll and defending from a rebounding angle and everything else. We’re going to need that out of Mick.”

And by the sounds of it, Wednesday might not be a cameo for Mickey, as Johnson’s ankle seems to be a significant injury.

“Sounds like Amir’s [ankle] was pretty swollen earlier [Wednesday]. I’d say that he’s doubtful for the weekend. And Jaylen, I have not heard, from a severity standpoint. But it wasn’t made out to be quite as bad as Amir’s but he’s sore today.”

As for Bradley, who’s missing his third game with a sore right Achilles, Stevens said the soreness is persisting.

“He worked out [Tuesday] and woke up [Wednesday] sore,” Stevens said. “That’s my medical evaluation.”

Will he Bradley be back Friday in Atlanta?

“I have no idea,” Stevens replied. “I have no idea what that means, how sore. I haven’t asked any questions after I got out [vs. Washington].”


Read More: Amir Johnson, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Jaylen Brown
Escape act against Sixers shows Celtics still have big problems down low 01.06.17 at 10:07 pm ET
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The Celtics are lucky their best big man was also their most clutch 3-point shooter Friday night. 

On a night when Joel Embiid owned the paint with 23 points and eight rebounds, Al Horford countered with 19 points and 12 rebounds, including four threes in the final 12 minutes to allow Boston to escape, 110-106, at TD Garden. 

Horford connected on the decisive three with 17.2 seconds left to put the Celtics up 107-106. Boston won for ninth time in 11 games to improve to 22-14 on the season. 

The Celtics can also count themselves fortunate that Ben Simmons – who traveled with Philly for the first time Friday – was not in uniform and playing. If he were, the Celtics would not have had enough answers. 

Sixers coach Brett Brown raved and raved and raved pregame about Isaiah Thomas. Then Avery Bradley came out and dropped 14 points in the opening quarter against Philly to remind him and everyone else just how good the Celtics (at least on offense) can be when it’s not just Thomas doing the scoring.

On the night that the Celtics handed out pamphlets pushing Bradley as their second worthy All-Star candidate, the guard made the team’s media relations department look smart. Bradley finished just six points shy of his career-high with 26 points while Thomas added 24. The two combined for 50 points to offset the Sixers’ dominance inside.

The Sixers abused the Celtics in the first half in the paint, outscoring the Celtics, 30-6, and taking a commanding 62-51 lead. Philly ended the game outscoring Boston 46-18 in the paint.

Philadelphia showed the glimpses of the team they might become if Ben Simmons comes back healthy and joins the likes of Joel Embiid, Nerlens Noel and Ersan Ilyasova. There was the monstrous block of Al Horford from behind by Noel midway through the first half. There was the 17 points in 14 minutes from Embiid. And Ersan Ilyasova poured in 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting from deep. 

In the first half, the 9-24 visitors were clearly the more athletic and energetic team.  

(For a complete recap of the Celtics’ win, click here.)

The fact that the young Sixers came out strong and with energy in the opening 24 minutes should not concern Celtics fans. 

The face that they dominated the Celtics physically in their own building should. Al Horford did have 10 rebounds and was 1-for-7 from the field. But the rest of Boston’s inside game was MIA. 

Ironically, it was Thomas who was struggling badly to start the game, matching a season-high with five turnovers in the first 17 minutes of the game. 

The Sixers haven’t won a game in Boston since the end of the 2013-14 season, Stevens’ first in Boston and a season that ended 25-57. That year, the Sixers took three of four from the Celtics. Including Friday, the Celtics have now won 10 straight from the Sixers.

With 11:34 left in the fourth, the Celtics finally drew back even when Marcus Smart got into the paint and threw one up and in. On the next possession, the Celtics took their first lead since 27-25 early in the second quarter. 

With 7:33 remaining, the Sixers reclaimed the lead, 90-89, on a Noel alley-oop dunk after the Celtics went up by five, 89-84. But the Celtics came back with a three from Horford to take the lead. Horford did it again five minutes later to snap a 97-97 tie. Horford’s fourth trey of the fourth put the Celtics up, 107-106, with 17.2 seconds left. 

Read More: Al Horford, Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Joel Embiid
Pregame Friday: Celtics look for guys like Jae Crowder with ‘chips on their shoulders’, Tyler Zeller out the weekend at 7:27 pm ET
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Listening to Brad Stevens before Friday’s game with the Sixers and you get the distinct idea that Celtics didn’t mind Jae Crowder being ticked off by the cheers for Gordon Hayward Tuesday night at TD Garden.

They could’ve just done without him taking his frustrations to social media.

“I think the chip on your shoulder thing is a good thing in a lot of ways,” Stevens said. “Jae talked about it again [Thursday]. I think the one thing that he said he wishes he wouldn’t have taken it to Twitter late. But at the end of the day, we’ve prioritized guys with chips on their shoulders and guys that really want to be good and believe they can be really good and work the right way because we think that’s contagious.”

Danny Ainge also indicated on the team’s flagship station Thursday morning that he wouldn’t mind Celtics fans cheering opposing team’s players if it’s going to inspire Crowder to greatness on the court. Stevens indicated he thought Crowder would not miss a beat and continue playing well.

“I would think fine,” Stevens said. “Yeah, I mean I would think fine. And he said his part [Thursday] and we’ve talked about it a lot. So, our focus since right after media was over [Thursday] was on the Sixers and getting ready for tonight’s game.”

Crowder is averaging 13.3 points, five rebounds and 2.3 assists this season.

Fingers crossed: The Celtics will be without back-up big man Tyler Zeller for two more games as he battles to return from a stomach bug that sent him to the hospital on New Year’s Day.

“Tyler is out for the next two games,” Stevens said Friday. “He got on the bike [Thursday]. He’s going to work out again today but he’s still pretty under weather. Jordan Mickey’s got it now so he’s out. That’s it for now. James Young continues to be out an ankle sprain.”

Stevens was asked if he was feeling OK. “I’m good, knock on wood,” the coach quipped. “Same precautions everybody else takes, right. Wash your hands and cross your fingers.”

What about a quarantine for Isaiah Thomas?

“It’s all part of it,” Stevens said without missing a beat. “You go and see any game that’s played in the NBA right now, somebody’s been sick. You just move on with who’s available.”

All-Star push: The Celtics continued their social media and media relations campaign to get representation on the All-Star team this February in New Orleans. Friday’s focus: Avery Bradley. The guard is averaging career-highs in points (17.8), rebounds (6.9), assists (2.4) and 3-point percentage (40.8). Of course, Bradley is considered the Celtics best defensive player as well. Stevens was asked Friday if a player’s defense should factor in the selection of such honors as All-Stars and player of the month.

“Should be half because that’s half the game but that’s not the way those things are chosen,” Stevens said.

Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Jae Crowder, NBA
Celtics make themselves a tough opponent as they find versatility in individual abilities 12.27.16 at 11:08 pm ET
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Marcus Smart applauds the Celtics' effort during Tuesday's victory over the Grizzlies. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

Marcus Smart applauds the Celtics’ effort during Tuesday’s victory over the Grizzlies. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)

The Celtics’ 113-103 win over the Grizzlies Tuesday night was, by all accounts, much better than the nail-biter they found themselves in exactly a week prior.

Trailing by as many as 17 at one point, the C’s were saved only by a 44-point performance by Isaiah Thomas in the two-point overtime win in Memphis last Tuesday. This time around, the Celtics never trailed after 4:07 in the first quarter. They controlled field goal and 3-point percentages as well as rebounds.

What the win truly served as, however, was a clinic in variety.

There was little doubt that after dismantling the otherwise stout Grizzlies defense, Memphis was going to put heavy emphasis on stopping Thomas. To a degree, they did that, holding him to 21 points. But the Celtics way of answering was unleashing a wealth of other scorers onto them to balance the offense.

“They were paying a lot of attention to [Thomas] off screens, they were blitzing some, they were sending guys from the weak side into the paint. And I thought he did a pretty good job of making the right play,” coach Brad Stevens said following the win.

The Celtics had five others on top of Thomas in double figures. Al Horford (11), Marcus Smart (13), Jae Crowder (17), Gerald Green (19) and Avery Bradley (23) all helped balance out the production.

Marcus Smart was subtly a major part of relieving some of the pressure off of Thomas. Oftentimes lately (with Tuesday as no exception), the 22-year-old has been tasked with running the point, allowing Thomas to get time on the bench without the need to but Terry Rozier in, who otherwise would be a defensive downgrade.

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Gerald Green, Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Smart
Full Court Press: Brad Stevens comes to grips with mediocrity, effects of new CBA on Celtics 12.17.16 at 12:34 pm ET
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Dec 3, 2016; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Boston Celtics head coach Brad Stevens during the second quarter against the Philadelphia 76ers at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Brad Stevens is patiently waiting for his team to rise from mediocrity. (Eric Hartline/USA Today Sports)

Everyone knows injuries have impacted the Celtics to start this season of promise. 

But what Brad Stevens is trying to get across to his team is that the losses due to man-games missed has not been the biggest issue. The Celtics have simply been a mediocre team just under a third of the way through the year. 

And Stevens can’t blame it all on injuries. 

What does he think of the record so far?

“It’s 13-12,” Stevens said before Friday’s win over Charlotte that improved it to 14-12. The Celtics entered Friday’s action actually a half-game behind the 14-12 Knicks. 

Satisfied?

“It is what it is. I thought this was going to… I thought we had a lot of tough, tough challenges, especially at the start of the season, ahead of us,” Stevens said. “There were a couple of things, obviously, that you can’t predict going into a new year, with regard to availability. But I said at the beginning of the year, we’re as close to second or third as we are 10th. Still are.”

Al Horford missed nine games with a concussion and one due to a paternity leave. Jae Crowder missed eight games with an ankle sprain. Thomas returned Friday after a four-game absence due to a sore groin. Marcus Smart missed three games with a bum ankle. 

“I don’t think we should use that as an excuse,” Stevens said. “I think at the end of the day, that’s part of the game. Certainly, we’ve missed some guys [who have] missed some games. My hope is that we can get a little bit of a steady play here and see how we look healthy.” 

 Avery Bradley took it a step further before Friday’s game.
 
“We know we need to get back to playing the right way,” Bradley said. “And pulling off some wins in a row is important for us. I would call it a must-win after losing three close ones. We always want to take care of home, and like you said it’s a team that’s in the East that we’re going to see again. These games really count for us. It really matters when it comes down to the end of the year as far as seeding in the playoffs.”

The Celtics and Hornets are very similar in their approach this season. They are two teams looking to take that next step after making a late-season run last season. The Celtics and Hornets finished tied with the Hawks and Heat with 48 wins.

“Yeah, there’s no question. It’s been that way for the last couple of years and I think it boils down to… we always talk about you’ve got to maintain an even keel and you’ve got to control what you can control, and that is playing as consistent as possible every single night. I thought we played some really good basketball against Toronto last week, some really good basketball against Oklahoma City, not as good against San Antonio. But I think we have to do what we are doing, better, to beat those teams.”

Charlotte is 14-12 and that’s good enough, despite a three-game skid, to be leading the Southeast Division. 

“I was talking to Brad before,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said. “I hesitate to even look at standings at this stage of the game, because the schedule is such a big part of it. Some teams played a lot more games on the road, other teams have been out West already and we haven’t. I think until you play 40-45 games… obviously you don’t want to lose contact with everybody, but you just have to worry about your team and building a team game that’s balanced.”

New CBA and the Celtics: On Wednesday, the NBA announced that the league and the Players Association reached a tentative agreement on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, pending ratification by players and team owners. 

In the statement, the league announced that “in order to give both sides enough time to review the terms of the agreement and vote to ratify, the parties have agreed to extend the mutual deadline to opt out of the existing CBA from Dec. 15, 2016, to Jan. 13, 2017.”  

Multiple reports indicate that the deal is for at least six years and the Washington Post’s Tim Bontemps has a thorough explanation of some of the leaked details of the new pact, including what exactly is the new “designated player exception” (DPE).  

What does that mean for the Celtics? 

The new rule has the potential to impact free agents, like Blake Griffin, as well as potential trade targets like Paul George or the always-coveted but highly flammable DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings could still decide they would rather move on from the Boogie man, but now have the option to offer Cousins a longer, more lucrative extension this summer. In other words, the league is trying to provide incentives to teams like Sacramento and Indiana to hold onto their own free agents instead of just dumping them. Celtics president of basketball operations Danny Ainge will have to more closely weigh short-term goals versus long-term planning and how the Nets’ likely lottery pick is going to figure into all of this. Then there’s Kevin Durant. If Ainge thinks he can lure Durant to Boston and if Durant opts out in Golden State after one year, that could significantly change how Ainge views the marketplace and more importantly, Boston’s place in it. 

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Brad Stevens, Charlotte Hornets
Full Court Press: Sounding the alarm, Isaiah Thomas calls out coaches, IT can’t keep bailing C’s out 11.19.16 at 9:57 am ET
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Nov 18, 2016; Boston, MA, USA;  Boston Celtics guard Isaiah Thomas (4) tries to get between Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry (30) and Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green (23) during the first half at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been Isaiah Thomas or nothing this season for the Celtics. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

The imagery was too rich. Moments after Friday’s 104-88 wipeout at the hands of the Warriors, fire alarms were going off all around TD Garden. Fire trucks had trouble getting down the side streets leading up to the Garden to turn off the annoying sounds that delayed Brad Stevens’ postgame explanation of the mess. 

Turns out, a grill on the fourth floor malfunctioned and overheated, setting off the 20-minute disruption. 

If only fixing the Celtics were that easy. But we’ll try. 

1. Shorten the bench. From early on in camp, the thought was that having a deep bench could strengthen rotations for Brad Stevens. It hasn’t worked that way. The bench is not producing enough and is getting constantly outdone by the opposing group of reserves. On Friday, three players on the bench had at least 23 minutes. Part of that was because of garbage time in the fourth and part of it was traveling to Detroit after the game for a back-to-back Saturday. A good three or four man rotation off the bench is the sweet spot for most NBA teams and the return of Jae Crowder and Al Horford should help that. 

2. Pray for health. The Celtics have been admittedly hard hit by injuries early in the season. Crowder (left ankle) and Horford (concussion) have missed most of the season while Marcus Smart dinged his left ankle Friday night. Crowder and Horford should return on the trip while the prognosis for Smart does not seem dire. When you’re missing two-thirds of your starting front court, there is going to be a problem.  The Celtics have been using this as a bit of crutch but it’s been a legitimate issue that has stunted their ability to improve early on. 

3. Bench Kelly Olynyk. He spaces the floor but at some point, when you’re 0-for-5 as a finesse big man and have grab three rebounds in 17 minutes, the message needs to be sent. The Celtics can’t afford his finesse game right now. They need bigs who will get dirty. Olynyk is heading back to the bench and he should probably stay there until the 7-footer shows the ability and determination to help on the inside. Stevens certainly sounds like he’s going to try and support Olynyk on board for as long as he needs him. “Kelly, I thought, has always done a lot of good things for us. There’s some tough match-ups out there [Friday] and I think that he’s had better games; he’d be the first to tell you. But he’s been a good player for us.”

4. Press more and create transition. This is a team with Isaiah Thomas, Avery Bradley and Smart. When they’re on the court, they should limit their half-court exposure and use their quickness to their advantage. With Crowder and Horford out, Stevens tried going with Jaylen Brown and Tyler Zeller to match up big for big. That didn’t work. They went to Smart to guard much bigger bigs. Not a bad idea considering he’s the healthiest low-post defender. In half-court, trapping more couldn’t hurt. They desperately need to create turnovers and transition offense for easy baskets, a category they dominated last spring when they made a run to 48 wins. 

5. Get to the basket. The Celtics are taking 30 threes a game, making 10 of them. The instant gratification from that is great. Here’s the problem: They’re not drawing fouls on the opposition and, outside of Isaiah Thomas (9/9 Friday) they’re not getting to the free throw line. Thomas is fifth in the league getting to the line, averaging 10 free throws a game, making 9. The inside game of the Celtics is lacking and that takes some dirty work. Do the dirty work, get to the line and rebound. All of that happens when there’s more of an inside commitment. 

Attitude problem:

Isaiah Thomas finally had enough after Friday’s 104-88 embarrassment on national TV to would-be Celtic Kevin Durant and the Golden State Warriors. 

The Celtics were humiliated 31-9 in the third quarter, a period that featured an 18-0 run by the Warriors. The Celtics were an abysmal 2-of-17 from the field and 1-of-9 from 3-point range. 

Al Horford or no Al Horford, Jae Crowder or no Jae Crowder, those numbers are appalling.

“We know we have two of our key players out and that’s no excuse but we were in the game for one half,” Thomas said. “Everybody seen that third quarter open it up. So if you take away that third quarter and play as close to 48 minutes as possible, we’d still be in the game. You can’t let a team like that go on a run like that and expect to come back.

And what’s more concerning is the lack of consistency the Celtics have shown over a 6-6 start to the season. Opposing teams aren’t just snubbing the Celtics like Durant, they’re rubbing their noses in it like Durant’s front court colleague Zaza Pachulia, who did a dance after a 17-footer that capped the 18-0 spurt. That shot made it 79-51. 

“Yeah. At that point, the game is turned around,” Thomas said. “I guess we we gave up. I mean, coaching staff as well. We started subbing, it was bad. Especially, I only played 27 minutes. We gave up.”

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Read More: Avery Bradley, Boston Celtics, Isaiah Thomas, Kelly Olynyk
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